News / Europe

Greeks, Riot Police Clash During Protest Over Spending Cuts

Greek protester uses a baton to hit a riot police officer during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, June 15, 2011
Greek protester uses a baton to hit a riot police officer during clashes in Athens' main Syntagma square, June 15, 2011

In Greece, two major unions went on strike and tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Wednesday.  It is a public protest against government plans to toughen the country’s austerity measures and save the country from financial ruin. 

More than 20,000 people took to the streets of Athens, and in Thessaloniki in northern Greece, another estimated 20,000.

They were protesting against government plans to raise taxes and cut spending.

The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, but in the capital, at the Syntagma Square outside parliament, riot police fired tear gas at a group of protestors who were armed with petrol bombs.

Inside parliament, lawmakers debated the controversial new austerity package worth around $40 billion that is causing major public discontent.

One young Greek told reporters that something has to be done to reverse the government plans.

She says at 25 years old, she does not know what will happen to her future.  She says she is very angry about the situation.

But the Greek government is struggling to come up with a way to balance the country’s spiraling debt problems.

Loans to Greece from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund are conditional upon this new austerity package.  And Greece is dependent on its creditors.  If the EU and the IMF do not deliver on a rescue package, Greece will have to default on its debts -- a situation that would have repercussions across the European Union.

But European governments have their own problems to worry about, not least tax-paying voters who are not happy about bailing out the Greek economy.

Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners in London, says EU nations have to pull together to keep the Greek economy afloat.

"If the European Central Bank cannot help the ailing situation of certain members, then what is the point of having the euro?" asked Wheeldon.  "This situation and that of other countries who have run into trouble, or may yet run into trouble, has to be dealt with in a concerted manner by the government of the rest."

Part of Wednesday’s action was organized by two Greek unions who went on a 24-hour strike and organized public marches.  Similar events have turned violent in the past; just last month, three clerks died after their bank was hit with firebombs.

And it is not just public protest that the leading Socialist Party has to worry about.  On Tuesday, a government deputy defected, narrowing the government’s majority in parliament.

Wheeldon says it is a volatile situation, but Greece and the European Union will get through it.

"We will get through [this] crisis.  If Greece is to default, or does default, which it probably will at some point, it's not going to bring the euro down and it's certainly not going to bring the EU down," Wheeldon said.

The Greek austerity package is to be voted on later this month.

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